Are the Golden Years of Apple Behind Us?

That’s a pretty bold title, isn’t it? I didn’t really mean for it to be. I’m not a fan of shameless link bait. And it’s not my intention to be hyperbolic. I chose that question as the title because it’s the reason I’m writing this right now. That question has been rattling around in the back of my mind. And instead of continuing to ignore it, I thought I’d try and solidify my thoughts into a cohesive essay.

I’m not making any claims to brilliance here. I don’t think I’ve stumbled upon any insightful or revolutionary ideas here. I’m not even really trying to prove a point. I’m just trying to give a voice to this ever present feeling of dread that’s crept into my thoughts when they drift to the future of Apple. And I’m sharing these thoughts with a community of people who will hopefully understand where I’m coming from, and what I’m trying to say.

Steve Jobs has left the helm of Apple. And while he’s still at the company in what amounts to an advisory role, everyone knows that the Jobs’ era at Apple has ended. Sure the ripples of his presence there won’t subside immediately. David Pogue thinks we’ll need to really start worrying in about two years. But we’re all wondering what this will mean — Apple without Steve. None of us knows for certain. The only way we’ll know is to wait, and watch, as time goes by. The question isn’t so much, will Apple change? It’s, how will Apple change?

First of All, Why Do You Care?

That’s another question I’ve been asking myself recently. Because I’m pretty sure that the reason I care about Apple and its future is closely linked with how I’ll measure their success going forward.

Apple’s products extend beyond simple functional tools. They elevate the computer, and related computing technologies, to an art form. They care about each and every component that goes into the machine, carefully planning and crafting how it will interact with its peers, how they’ll all coalesce to form a cohesive whole.

I think Alan Kay said it best:

“When the Mac first came out, Newsweek asked me what I [thought] of it. I said: Well, it’s the first personal computer worth criticizing.”

So it’s that attention to detail, that culture of craftsmanship, that’s attracted me to Apple’s products. I understand what Apple is striving for. They’re a kindred spirit, to me and to anyone else who values something that’s well-thought out and well designed.

As Kay puts it, they’re worth criticizing, and that’s because they’re the only ones in the realm of consumer electronics aspiring to something higher than practicality and utility. These are qualities and ideals that Steve Jobs possesses. He’s done everything in his mortal power to instill them into Apple. But the doubt remains in my mind, can they live on without him being there?

So Why Are You Still Scared?

If Steve’s done his best to build Apple, the company, in his image, why am I still worried about Apple’s future success? Well, I’d like to blame John Gruber of all people for planting that seed of doubt in my mind. On a recent episode of The Talk Show, when asked by Dan Benjamin if Tim Cook was the next Steve Jobs, Gruber replied quite flatly, no. That the next Steve Jobs wasn’t even at Apple. People like Jobs don’t work for companies. They go out and build their own companies.

I think he’s right. Actually, I’m almost positive John’s right. That’s what worries me. I don’t know who that person is.

Now, is that a ridiculous fear? Yeah, probably. But it’s the emotional connection I, and others like me, feel toward Apple that makes it a fear in the first place. I said we’re kindred spirits. Apple is a company creating the type of products that I would want to create if I was in their position. It’s why they’re such a joy to use. The things that I value about Apple are emotional, human traits. Apple is a company now. Technically they always were a company, but now that the human face of Apple has gone, all I’m left to stare at is that company. And it somehow feels different, a little bit colder, a touch more impersonal.

What Am I Looking For?

I figured I should pose at least one question that I actually have an answer to. Just what am I looking for out of Apple in the years to come?

I’m looking for Apple — the new Apple, under Tim Cook — to continue to exhibit the same traits as Jobs’ Apple. I want them to continue striving for perfection in their hardware and software, to continue sweating the details. Because the details matter to me.

I want them to continue to be fearless when it comes to innovating. Blazing trails and taking risks, not being afraid to stick stubbornly to what they believe in. I want them to keep their collective sense of good taste, that inherent ability to know when something feels right, and following that sense.

I want Apple to continue to change, but always for the better. Or at least collectively for the better. They can have failures. But they have to recover from those failures with skill, dignity, and grace. I want them to continue to produce things worthy of criticism. I want Apple to continue to chase new successes, rather than defensively guarding the ones they’ve already had.

That’s a lot to ask, isn’t it? I know it is. But at the same time, I know it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. Because that’s exactly what Apple has been for nearly a decade and a half. They’ve been all of those things under Jobs. All I’m asking if for them to continue to do it.

So, What About Your Title Question?

Ok, so what about that opening question? The one that probably got you to open this article in the first place. Do I think the golden years of Apple are behind us? Honestly, I’m still divided.

I don’t think they have to be. I think the fate of Apple rests squarely on its own shoulders. They have the map, they know the direction to lead the company in. They just have a new leader. Let’s see if they can keep going on the path they’ve been traveling down.

But what if they can’t? What if the Apple of the future stops taking revolutionary risks, and retreats to milking past successes? Then I’ll be sad. I think a lot of people will. It’ll mean that Apple Steve Jobs taking the lead really was something special.

I hope that doesn’t happen. I hope the golden years of Apple aren’t behind us. But whether they are or not, the stage is set for the next Steve Jobs. The next bold and brash innovator, with a keen sense of style and a sharp vision for the future. I don’t know who that person is yet. But I look forward to finding out.

What Do You Think?

This article represents a brief opinion piece submitted by one of our frequent contributors. Here at AppStorm we represent all sides of this debate. For a more positive post-Jobs outlook, check out this article outlining the leadership in place at Apple and why they’re fit to fill Jobs’ shoes.

Leave a comment and let us know about your outlook for Apple in the next five years. If you were given the opportunity to invest in the company now with the hope of a favorable future return, would you take it?


Add Yours
  • First of all: of course there won’t be a new Steve Jobs just like that. Unique people such as Steve certainly don’t grow on trees. They are rare and we all know that. It’s sometimes sad though that we don’t listen all too well to them while they are around. So Are the Golden Years of Apple Behind Us?: Steve has for over a decade hired (and of course fired) people who strive in the same direction as he’s always done. He’s built up a company relentlessly hiring they best people there are. It’s a culture that you can almost touch. I had the privilege of being at 1 Infinite Loop last year and we met a guy who was a hardware engineer on the iPad. We talked at length and not a single time did he talk about MHz, Mbits, processor speed or anything like that. No, he only talked about what a great product the iPad was because of its underlying technology and primarily what you could achieve thanks to the the new chip etc. Now that’s the culture that drives and has driven Apple to be number one.

    Could this crumble and go to pieces. Yes, sure eventually maybe but as someone wise once said: B people hire C people because they can’t stand having someone more clever around them while A people hire A+ people because they want to achieve something and stretch the boundaries. That’s what Steve has done for over a decade at Apple. So the golden years aren’t over for quite some time…

  • I’ve been thinking the same thing and it’s really bothering me. First of all, I think that Lion isn’t really a huge step. If I see what Microsoft wants to achieve with Windows 8, it’s way more revolutionary and rethinks the way we use PC’s. For the first time I think older people will be able to understand a PC. So I hope the line between iOS and OSX will still shrink without losing functions.

    So what I hope now is that Apple shows me that i’m wrong and they still try to innovate. Hopefully we’ll still see the innovation they brought to the world in the coming years.

    • That really begs the question “What doesn’t Lion do that’s so grounbreaking in Windows 8?” It’s very easy say that something is revolutionary. It’s an opinion that doesn’t have to be based on fact.

      How is Windows 8 going to be easier for consumer to use? How is Lion failing to innovate. Unless you can add weight to an opinion it’s nothing more than whitenoise. If something is great it should be easy to rattle of a feature and the benefit that feature provides.

      For instance “the iPad is fantastic for young to old users alike because it removes the need to manage a file system letting consumer become more intimate with apps and not documents.”

      Oh and Lion is indeed a huge step but most people don’t know where to look.

    • In what way will Windows 8 be in any ‘revolutionary’? By taking a UI paradigm that has miserably failed on the Zune HD, is in the process of miserably failing on the Windows Phone 7 devices, and shoving it into people’s faces.

      Windows 8 ‘revolutionary’? Hardly. Frantically and aimlessly -reactionary-? Definitely.

  • The main thing I’d like to see is a more Connected Apple. iOS 5 and the Twitter integration is absolutely the right kind of direction. And I love Twitter. But Google+? Will they allow integration with that given the competition that’s there? I’d like to think a more Connected Apple will say Yes.

    Great apps like Sparrow and Firefox that have their followings on the desktop, who’s developers would love to branch out onto iOS but simply can’t be sure if they’ll be rejected, would make great additions to the iOS ecosystem, and I’d like to think that a more Connected Apple will lower the walls around this garden.

  • Yes, the golden years are over. But not because SJ isn’t CEO anymore.
    First – Macs…
    Apple stopped aiming at the pro market for their computers, no Updates for the MacPro in a long time, FCXP is a joke, Lion is a joke for Pros, and so on. But Apple Computers are still way to expansive for the average consumer. Sales will go down over the next year or so.
    Second – iOS and Mobile…
    Apple will lose the patent war, they broke some secret rules in the mobile industry by suing everyone in their way. Now the mobile industry including Telecoms will strike back – no more Apple products on Verizon, T-Mobile. Samsung, VIA and many others will sue Apple to death. Apple may even not be able to sale the iPhone 5 in the US and in Europe. iOS will collapse.

    I still think that Apple makes great products, but their strategies are really, really bad.

    • Wont happen coz the judge is a fanboy

    • I agree 100%. Apple stopped caring about their core consumers (the pros) once the ipod really took off. It stopped being about making great products and software. It became more about building software and products that trap consumers into a money suck eco-system and screwing over their developers and partners.

      I’ve been using macs since the first iMac and always considered myself a real mac fanboy, but now Apple leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

      • Yup. Mac user for 24 years, but I’ve been looking at Linux in case OS X gets any more like iOS.

  • Yeah, I took the “shameless link bait” because I have too much time on my hands. I also love to peruse “insightful responses” .
    First off, you are correct in your self confessed claim to lack of brilliance here, but at least you made a few good observations and lifted a few good quotes to bolster your premise.
    I have used Apple products since 1983, because they “just work”
    I am not “scared” about the future, as I think that would be like having been scared when Leonardo DaVinci, Benjamin Franklin,Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, etc, etc, left the building.
    The infrastructure and playbook of Apple is in place, times change, new young creatively disruptive minds come along and
    find the new directions. My guess is they are already at Apple and have yet to emerge, and if they’re not, they’ll want to work for Apple.
    Remember, SJ and “just one more thing” didn’t really make it happen until his 2nd shot with Apple, and I will be eternally grateful to him for that, and wish him good health.
    Keeping my AAPL stock !

  • I don’t care about devices but I’ve used OSX every day for 8 years and I still maintain that the desktop OS peaked at around version 10.4.4. Since then every release has been a downgrade. Barring a miracle my next computer won’t be an Apple.

    • Same here… for sure i will enjoy the ride as long as i can stand what Apple is doing to OSX. But i can see the ending of my beloved Mac days!

  • I hope there will be changes at Apple regarding the App Store policies. Especially for iPhone and iPad users who are (in practise) forced to use the App Store.

    It is ok for Apple to review apps for malware, but they should not have any say in what kind of software I choose to run on the phone/table that I have bought.

  • I feel sorry for Steve and his family. He was one of the greatest inventors of all time, but no, I’m sure that Apple’s golden years lie straight ahead!

    • I agree. All this dooms day talk makes me laugh. Apple went with the market they thought best for Apple. And guess what, they made the right choice. Yes, it looks like they are getting away from the Pro market, but the consumer market is so much larger. And getting the OS out of the way making the computer and other devices easier to use is the future. Most people do not want to deal with the OS…they just want to use their device.